THE CLAY GIRL

Heather Tucker

Vincent Appleton smiles at his daughters, raises a gun, and blows off his head. For the Appleton sisters, life had unravelled many times before. This time it explodes.

Eight-year-old Hariet, known to all as Ari, is dispatched to Cape Breton and her Aunt Mary, who is purported to eat little girls. But Mary and her partner, Nia, offer an unexpected refuge to Ari and her steadfast companion, Jasper, an imaginary seahorse.

Yet the respite does not last, and Ari is torn from her aunts and forced back to her twisted mother and fractured sisters. Her new stepfather,

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Vincent Appleton smiles at his daughters, raises a gun, and blows off his head. For the Appleton sisters, life had unravelled many times before. This time it explodes.

Eight-year-old Hariet, known to all as Ari, is dispatched to Cape Breton and her Aunt Mary, who is purported to eat little girls. But Mary and her partner, Nia, offer an unexpected refuge to Ari and her steadfast companion, Jasper, an imaginary seahorse.

Yet the respite does not last, and Ari is torn from her aunts and forced back to her twisted mother and fractured sisters. Her new stepfather, Len, and his family offer hope, but as Ari grows to adore them, she’s severed violently from them too, when her mother moves in with the brutal Dick Irwin.

Through the sexual revolution and drug culture of the 1960s, Ari struggles with her father’s legacy and her mother’s addictions, testing limits with substances that numb and men who show her kindness. Ari spins through a chaotic decade of loss and love, the devilish and divine, with wit, tenacity, and the astonishing balance unique to seahorses.

The Clay Girl is a beautiful tour de force about a child sculpted by kindness, cruelty, and the extraordinary power of imagination, and her families — the one she’s born in to and the one she creates.

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  • ECW Press
  • Paperback
  • October 2016
  • 352 Pages
  • 9781770413030

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$18.95

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About Heather Tucker

Heather Tucker has won many prose and short-story writing competitions, and her stories have appeared in anthologies and literary journals. She lives in Ajax, Ontario.

Author Website

Praise

Shortlisted: Kobo Emerging Writer Prize, Literary Fiction category, 2017
Shortlisted: Dartmouth Book Award (Fiction), Atlantic Book Awards, 2017
Longlisted for the 2017 Ottawa Independent Writers’ Award and the Frank Hegyi Award for Emerging Authors

“Tucker’s triumphant debut novel is the story of a childhood lost, a family found, and a coming-of-age, recounted in precise and poetic language. . . It is at times difficult to read, but this novel is worth every moment of pain and every tear.”— Publishers Weekly, starred review

“The resilience and strength Ari attains in spite of her ugly circumstances are told in a luminous and poetic prose.” — San Francisco Chronicle

“Ari Appleton will take your breath away . . . [An] astonishingly exquisite debut novel . . . Author Tucker’s prose is as lyrical and powerful as the ocean, Ari’s voice as sure and strong as a rudder through wild seas . . . Her rare gift of showing us beauty, hope and humor amid profound trauma make The Clay Girl an extraordinary debut novel.”Toronto Star

Discussion Questions

1. What does the book’s title suggest? How is Ari molded by various forces — good and evil?

2. Ari faces great challenges because of her incredibly dysfunctional family. What among these accounts for her resilience?

3. Ari is also known as Hariet. How are her names reflective of how she views herself or of how others regard her? How is her place in a family of five sisters with pretty “J” names reflected in her name?

4. The theme of resiliency is strong in the book, specifically, the ability to be malleable enough to change with the setting and situation and gritty enough to stand your ground. How is it that some characters are able to succeed and others are not? Compare Ari, Her mother, Uncle Iggy, etc.

5. This novel covers some weighty topics, including sexual abuse, suicide, physical abuse, and bullying. At times, it does so with humor. Did you feel that this was an appropriate way to handle such important topics?

6. The idea of an animal spirit guide is not new to literature (think of Patronuses in Harry Potter and Daemons in Golden Compass) and can be traced far back to various Aboriginal traditions. How does it function in The Clay Girl? What is the significance of Jasper, the seahorse, as Ari’s imaginary friend?

7. What is the role/symbolism of the train in The Clay Girl?

8. How does the time period (the 60s) add or detract from the novel? Could the same story have been told in the present?

9. Discuss the connection that Ari has with Anne Frank and her diary.

10. What is the meaning of the color yellow in The Clay Girl? What does it symbolize?
* Sister house and Aunt Mary’s have yellow doors
* The house Len buys is yellow before it gets painted blue
* All the sisters, except Ari, have “yellow” hair
* Mikey’s suitcase is yellow
* “Black June Yellow June” poem
* Jackie is a yellow bear
* Ari says (page 208): “There’s always a yellow door. Sometimes it’s right in front of you, other times you have to travel great distances        to find it, but there’s always one.”

11. Were you surprised that Ari went back to Toronto? Were you disappointed?